Section: Opinion

Removing anonymity would fail to address the root of online negativity

“This author is clearly a tool.”

“[This comment has been moderated because it included a malicious and personal attack against the author.]”

By spring of 2012, I was used to comments like these. It was five months into my work on The Thrill — the Collegian’s blog — and I was terrified of writing a post in fear of drawing reactions like these from the student body. Two “10 O’Clock List”s I had written, “Five Creepiest Places on Campus” and “10 Weirdest Things About Kenyon Nightlife,” inspired a commenting frenzy. Some were supportive, some were negative and others were downright harassing, later transitioning from cyber- assaults into verbal ones. But they almost all had something in common.

Nearly every single comment was submitted anonymously.

The Thrill has come under attack for its commenting policy — particularly for allowing anonymous commenting. These are not new allegations. Since The Thrill’s inception in 2011, it has dealt with harmful, negative anonymous commenting at some point or another, with this added critique from its readers: if you didn’t allow anonymous commenting, this cycle of vicious commenting would end.

I respectfully disagree.

People will still say nasty things if they want to. Disallowing anonymous commenting will not create nicer people. If the intended goal is to promote a more positive dialogue within The Thrill’s readership, who in turn will write more constructive comments, the answer is not to lift the veil of anonymity; it is to appeal directly to those who write threatening comments like “Looks like someone hasn’t learned their lesson on what it means to be nice.”

Anonymous attacks on The Thrill happen because commenters believe it is appropriate to write negative, harmful things      about one another in a public forum. That is the problem here — not the comments section. And The Thrill has taken important steps to moderate that dialogue through an instructive and carefully thought-out policy that does not tolerate language that harrasses, targets or discriminates against an individual or group. Its policy is so detailed because The Thrill’s editors believe, as do I, in free and open discourse and recognizes that the Internet is an important platform on which dialogue can occur.

Take Project for Open Voices. They have changed the way Kenyon students view issues like sexual assault and discrimination by allowing anonymous narratives in which individuals can openly discuss personal, painful stories. In addition, a number of adolescents have found that the Internet is a safe space where they can anonymously explore their sexuality. This is especially imperative given the harsh realities of a world that hasn’t wholly accepted those who identify as LGBTQ.

Anonymity isn’t the problem. It’s a general lack of compassion extending itself into social media. Sure, The Thrill could choose to do away with anonymous commenting in order to appease its readers, but such a step would not address the larger problem. It would, rather, just remove one outlet where students and readers can express negative and hurtful sentiments about others, but it would   not remove those sentiments. In order to truly change the discourse that takes place in The Thrill’s comments section and in other anonymous forums, commenters need to consider whether or not compassion is a core value, not only personally but also for the greater Kenyon community.

The comments on my posts seriously forced me to reconsider my role as a writer and journalist. Those criticisms taught me that when I attach my name to a post or article, I am promising my readers that the facts I present are true and accurate — that the opinions I present merit consideration. But more importantly I learned that I don’t publish articles or stories in a vacuum, and that whatever I write will affect others. None of that would have happened without my experiences with The Thrill.

I would hazard to guess this wasn’t my critics’ intended goal. Perhaps those who commented anonymously on my posts genuinely believed their opinions were well-intentioned and promoted a free exchange of ideas. But I suspect the majority were trying to intimidate me into retracting my post and peer-pressure me into never writing again.

Guess what? It didn’t work.

Lauren Toole ’14 is an English major from Belmont, NC. She welcomes any and all commments, anonymous or otherwise, at 


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